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Kenya: Farmers scale up their agribusinesses


Kenyans invest in farming as agribusiness becomes worthy venture

Some years ago, many Kenyan farmers used to invest little in their livestock and crops as a majority farmed for hobby or self-fulfillment.

For those growing crops, they would use family labor to till the land, grow seeds saved from the previous season and use traditional methods that include the application of ash on crops to control pests.

Similarly, those engaging in livestock keeping would rear chickens or cows offered as dowry or gifts and allow the animals to forage for feeds.

A majority of those who would put money into farming were those growing cash crops like pyrethrum, coffee, tea and sugarcane.

The money would, however, come from companies contracted them to farm the crops in terms of loans given as inputs. It would later be deducted from the farmers’ pay.

Currently, things have changed greatly, with many farmers ploughing a lot of personal money from savings and loans into the soil as farming becomes a worthy agribusiness.

From certified seeds to fertilizer, irrigation systems and pesticides, the Kenyan farmer is spending more than ever before to boost food production.

Among the great spenders are horticultural farmers growing crops like capsicum, bullet chilli, vegetables and tomatoes.

Dairy farmers are equally putting a lot of investment in their farms as they embrace the zero-grazing system. The money is going into dairy feeds, mineral supplements, milking machines and chaff cutters and breeding.

It is a new farming world for the Kenyan farmers as agribusiness becomes one of the major sources of income, thanks to ready market for produce in urban areas like Nairobi.

“I grew up on a farm in Nakuru because my parents used to grow crops and keep livestock besides their teaching jobs, but looking back, what they were doing actually cannot be called as agribusiness,” David Nyorangi, an accountant in Nairobi, said on Thursday.

According to him, his parents were keeping indigenous animals for many years and later improved them through artificial insemination but that was all.

“The animals were left to graze the whole day, offered water and then milked in the evening producing some two or three litres. The best they were fed on was napier grass,” he said, adding his father had received initial heifer as a gift.

However, when he went into farming some three years ago, Nyorangi took a different route from his parents.

“I invested into the business close to 4,000 U.S. dollars which went on buying two heifers, building the dairy structure and buying animal feeds. I also bought semen for insemination and hired a farm manager, what my father never did,” he recounted.

Nyorangi has six cows, milking three that offer him up to 100 litres of milk every day, a majority that he sells to neighbours at 0.6 dollars a litre.

The farmer says the investment is worth it as he earns about 1,000 dollars every month from the animals.

Bernard Watitu is another farmer who has invested heavily in agribusiness. The farmer who grows tomatoes, capsicum and vegetables like kale and spinach in Juja, on the outskirts of Nairobi, invested in drip irrigation and greenhouse to enable him to harvest rain or shine.

The drip system cost him 1,500 dollars while the greenhouse about the same amount but the full-time farmer does not regret.

“I plant throughout the year, growing some tomatoes in the greenhouse and others in the field. I only have one greenhouse but I intend to invest in others. I normally coincide my planting with the dry season,” said Watitu, adding he spends good money on pesticides and water.

Growing up, Watitu says his parents used to plant beans, maize and bananas only but he choose the high value horticultural crops because of their ready market in Nairobi and income they offer.

He sells a 64-kilogram box of tomatoes at 60 dollars while a kilogram of capsicum goes for about 6 dollars and a bunch of kale 0.5 dollars.

“I can say the modern Kenyan farmer is spending up to 100 times more than the past. This is because they are adopting new forms of technology like motorized equipment, modified housing for animals and certified seeds all which lead to improved food production,” said Bernard Moina, an agricultural officer in western Kenya.

However, he noted that farmers have no choice as they are currently faced with new diseases and erratic weather that requires change of tact to produce food.

“The good thing is that the rising population has offered ready market unlike before when farmers faced challenges selling their produce,” he noted.

Research by Farm Concern shows that for every dollar spend on an acre of maize, one gets two, while for cassava, one earns 3 others.

For onions, for every dollar spend, one earns up to six times more while tomatoes five, highlighting why modern Kenyan farmers are going for the two crops and investing heavily.